Even as Palo Alto's firefighters union continues its drive to keep a labor-reform measure off the November ballot, it is simultaneously preparing for a public-relations battle to defeat the measure.
The ballot measure, which the City Council narrowly approved in July, would repeal a 1978 law that enables a panel of arbitrators to settle labor disputes between the city and its public-safety unions. The union, International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319, vehemently opposes the measure and has asked the state Public Employment Relations Board for an injunction that would keep it off the Nov. 8 ballot.
The board had not made any decisions on the request as of Friday morning.
As it waits for the decision, the union is gearing up for a campaign battle to keep the existing law in place. The union succeeded this week in getting an endorsement for its campaign against the measure from the Santa Clara Democratic Party, whose Chair Steve Preminger equated the measure to the recent efforts by Wisconsin lawmakers to strip state workers of their collective-bargaining rights.
The binding-arbitration provision, encoded in Article V of the City Charter, applies only to police officers and firefighters -- employee group who are barred from striking by state law. Proponents of the repeal, led by Councilman Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman, argued that the measure keeps the council from performing its duties in balancing the budget. The Fire Department's budget has been consistently increasing, while other departments have been forced to make cuts.
Opponents, including Councilwoman Gail Price and former Councilman John Barton, characterize the measure as a blow to the collective-bargaining rights of the public-safety unions. The Democratic Party made a similar argument in its endorsement of the firefighter campaign. The measure, Preminger said in a statement, "takes away the basic rights of firefighters and police officers."
"Firefighters and police officers deserve the same rights as other city employees," Preminger said.
Meanwhile, the union is fine-tuning its message by conducting phone polls. The union's spokesperson, Katie Merrill, said the polls are designed to "test the messages -- for and against."